Saturday, March 17, 2007

The electronic babysitter

If I had a dollar for how many times I have heard the following story ...
"I thought we should get one of those portable LCD DVD players for the kids on the flight but my partner was dead against it. I ended up buying it anyway and suffice it to say, we both now agree it is the best purchase we ever made."
There are times when electronic babysitters appear to be a must have. Flights are a good example. When you are traveling with a little baby, things are relatively easy. The baby is contained and your only issue is noise disturbing others. When they get older, the chief fear is restlessness. Put simply, they have to sit in a chair for what for them is a record-breaking long time and any parent is fooling themselves that they can sustain entertainment for them for any flight of longer duration than an hour.

There are dark ages for kids on flights -- I'd say from about 1 to 6 or 7. After that age, they can entertain themselves with a Nintendo DS or a book. But prior to that you are left with the following options: (a) reading to them (max 20 minutes); (b) little drawing kits (max 15 minutes) and (c) eating (max 20 minutes but fraught with danger). Let's add that up: 55 minutes. If you are "lucky" you can get another 10 minutes with the in-flight nappy change -- including the five minutes while you and your spouse negotiate incredible long-term concessions to get the other to do it.

The DVD player can fill the void. Even if your child can only be occupied for half hour spurts; put these in between other activities and you can extend your range to three or four hours. Long than that and you will need drugs to induce sleep.

What is more, a DVD player for a child on a flight is a positive externality. It is great for passengers around you. Indeed, if you don't have a child and are worried about this, you might carry a DVD player just in case as an option for misguided parents.

A similar but localised issue arises with regard to mechanical swings. These are things you can put a baby into and they are rocked gently and otherwise amused. We got one of these for our third child and could not believe that we had not got one before. It frees your hands and saves your mind. For the baby that does not understand that you have things to do in their interest (washing, preparing food, going to the bathroom), this will convince them.

Like all things, there is a time and a place for an electronic babysitter. Blanket policies never using them are unlikely to be the way to go. But handing your child over to the machine when the costs of not doing so are high, seems like a no brainer. Certainly, not worth an extended debate on each and every one.